Hello there! I am reporting from Chicago, IL. Eleven other students and myself are taking “The City vs. the Country: Literature of Nature and Urban Spaces” with Professor Bill Davis. A huge part of the class is exploring Chicago independently, so I thought I would delve into the different ways of wandering the city.
While our classes are located at Newberry Library, just a short walk away from our apartments, all the students have taken advantage of our 30-day subway pass. Bless the L! I grew up in Houston, where public transportation goes to die and you have to pry people away from their cars by their cold, dead hands. Thus, I do not take public transportation systems for granted and being able to get anywhere in the city without stepping into a car is very refreshing.
Becoming familiar with a subway map is also a very satisfying thing. I’m almost to the point where I can imagine it when I close my eyes. I can zip north or south on the red line from Clark and Division and I relish in the brown line route through the loop.
Yesterday afternoon, a few of us went to see a movie. When we emerged, it was pouring rain and subsequently, the L was packed with people. Each red line train that came was humid with hoards of commuters. We let three trains pass, hoping they would grow emptier. After waiting 15 minutes, Mary stepped daintily into the crowd and her body was absorbed into the tube of humans. I admired her assertiveness and the rest of us caught the next train.
But I love it. I love how everyone faces skyward, like fish out of water. I love that I can stand without holding on because the strangers around me hold my body up. I love the dank smell of sweat and cigarettes and exhaustion.
I took a 15-minute nap this afternoon; I fell asleep to rain pounding on my window and awoke to sunshine. The weather here can be very capricious, so walking around the city, one must be prepared for just about anything. Nevertheless, using my two feet just to meander around Chicago’s various neighborhoods is one of my favorite ways to see the city. After lunch is a prime time for excursions and students in the class have explored nearby Bucktown/Wicker Park, as well as Pilsen. One of the best parts about Chicago is that every neighborhood has its own personality so you can digest the city in bite-sized pieces by tackling a new area every day. Pilsen, with its colorful murals and varied history, has definitely been a class favorite. Bucktown is known for its delicious restaurants and “hip” vibe. Neighborhoods still on my bucket list are Hyde Park, Andersonville, and Lincoln Park.
Ahh, lastly, we have my favorite mode of exploring the city. I borrowed a road bike from a family friend in Chicago but there is also a superb bike-sharing system in Chicago. What I love about cycling around Chicago is the independence and spontaneity it infuses into my days.
I have found that in the age of yelp and google maps, it is too easy to decide on a destination and get a sort of tunnel vision. Or in the case of the L, literal tunnel vision. Often, I find myself dropping a pin at a particular café or museum and then following the little blue dots on my map until I arrive without really seeing the places I’m traveling through. But with a bike, I get to see so much more of the city and stumble upon places that I would not have found otherwise. On Sunday, I biked past a skate park and spent half an hour watching scruffy teens sliding on rails and dropping into bowls. Today, I passed a bike shop that is female-owned and run entirely by women. I wandered in and they gave me a bunch of recommendations about various trails in the city. Biking helps me to see the different arteries of this city as a connected network, instead of a fragmented puzzle.